More on uWink…

From a technical perspective the infrastructure used to make the magic happen at uWink is fairly straightforward.  An account is setup on their central computer by the host when you arrive and is temporarily linked to an RFID card you are given.  You use a ‘big-button’ UI on a touchscreen to place your order.  This screen on your table is tied to a ticketing system which informs the service staff of your needs.  

Every time you place an order for an item, all you need to do is place the RFID card against the side of the screen and viola, your order is processed and put on your account.  When you’re ready to leave, you can review & confirm your bill at your table.  Then just bring your card (and your cash) to the register to complete the transaction.

Broken down into it’s components, there isn’t really anything spectacular about the technology under the hood.  Touch-screens are nothing new.  Loyalty programs at casinos have used various card technologies for in-venue tracking and rewards for years.  Ticketing has been used for POS order fulfillment at restaurants (and the service industry in general) for years before that.  What makes the experience at uWink unique is the fairly seamless integration of these well-established technologies.  And, of course including the consumer in the fun…

Of course giving up all that table real-estate to expensive technology just allow patrons to place their meal order would likely be financial suicide.  Fortunately, the folks at uWink understand the value of the interactive engagement by offering a wide variety of fun experiences using the touch-screen.  Games, Trivia, and even an interactive wine tasting where you are given a selection of wines in which you pit your tasting prowess against a master sommelier are some of the choices. What seemed missing were peer-to-peer and group applications.  Yes, many of the games are available in 2-player mode.  But you must both be using the same screen.  It would be great to play against (or with) other patrons.  Pit Table 10 against Table 24 in a game of Trivia.  Play Texas Hold em’ with a collection of avid card players. Battleship with the cute redhead at the other end of the bar?  Hey, you sank my battleship!!! *sigh*

Also missing (or at least not obvious) was a tracking/reward system that incentivizes repeat visits.  Make my account persistent so that I can accumulate player or meal points that can be redeemed.   How about an Ad-supported dining model?  Mmmm… maybe not.  But it does open up some interesting opportunities for brands to help reduce operating costs.  “Would you like to add the smooth taste of Hellmann’s Mayonnaise to your sandwich? (Press Here)”…

The upshot is: this type of in-venue automation is fun to use and potentially revenue generating.  Creatively engaging your customer throughout their visit is a great way to provide a rich experience and build brand loyalty.  The concepts that the folks at uWink have made core to their business model, while still a little unrefined, are certain to become more prevalent in the near future.